The Kalish Factor

Photo by Virginia Lee Hunter

For gay Los Angeles politicos, last week brought dismal news. LAPD Deputy Chief David Kalish, a 28-year veteran of the force, was sent home with pay and is under investigation for allegedly molesting minors in the late 1970s. Kalish, whose sexual orientation was an open secret on the force for years, has long been considered one of the LAPD’s golden boys — smart, personable and well-respected by community leaders and fellow cops alike.

No one was surprised when Kalish, the commanding officer at the department’s West Bureau, put his hat in the ring for the chief’s job last year. Word was if the mayor and police commissioners went with an insider, Kalish was at the top of the list. It is ironic that last October, just as Mayor Jim Hahn tapped former NYPD Chief William Bratton, a Santa Clarita man filed a claim for financial damages against the city. The man alleged that Kalish had sexually molested, assaulted and harassed him when he was enrolled in the LAPD’s Explorer Scout–affiliated youth program more than 20 years ago, when the then-young police officer worked at Devonshire station.

Last week, the LAPD announced that the findings of its internal criminal investigation had been sent to the D.A.’s Office, which is expected to decide whether to charge Kalish by the end of April. A gay law-enforcement officer, who asked not to be identified, said what’s done is done. “The accusation itself does 90 percent of the damage,” the officer said. “He’s toast no matter what happens.”

Kalish is one of the youngest men to be appointed deputy chief and was the former spokesman for the LAPD. He had worked behind the scenes to make life easier for gay cops and improve relationships between the department and the city’s LGBT community. Although he had been coy about his sexuality in public statements (despite the fact that he served on the board of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center), he was able to build an impressive career without staying completely closeted, no mean feat in an organization that proudly harassed gays and lesbians for years.

Considered a problem solver, Kalish came up with a model approach for responding to lewd-conduct complaints without resorting to entrapping hapless gay men. Critics claim the LAPD traditionally went after gays with a vengeance, setting up legally dubious sting operations in areas where cruising didn’t necessarily exist. In the West Bureau, Kalish followed the city attorney’s recommendation that the LAPD only submit lewd-conduct cases where there was a third-party complaint and it wasn’t a cop’s word against a suspect’s word. Just four weeks ago at Chief Bratton’s regular meeting with LGBT community members, supporters of Kalish’s model of handling lewd-conduct cases encouraged the LAPD to adopt the West Bureau approach departmentwide.

With the man who has led the way on lewd conduct facing potential sexual-misconduct charges himself, are the LGBT-friendly policies the department is in the process of adopting in jeopardy? And for gay and lesbian cops on the force, are they now targets of a new wave of anti-gay discrimination? “It’s a setback, how big a setback I don’t know,” said one gay activist with close ties to issues related to the LAPD.

One of the other sticking points between gays and the department is its relationship with Learning for Life, the Explorer Scout program that is affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America. Although Learning for Life does not prevent gay cops or kids from participating in the youth program, the organization is still a subsidiary of the BSA, which discriminates based on sexual orientation. Although Bratton has not said what he is going to do, LGBT leaders had been hopeful that the new chief would sever ties with Learning for Life as part of a general reorganization of the LAPD’s youth programs.

Jim McDonnell, the LAPD’s chief of operations, wouldn’t talk about the investigation, but discounted claims that the department will slow down adoption of the West Bureau lewd-conduct model because of Kalish or that it was open season on out cops. “It will still get a good look,” he said. “I don’t think anybody should step away and feel intimidated in any way because of this particular case.”

Not everyone is so sure. “Technically they are separate issues,” the activist said about Kalish’s woes and the Learning for Life and lewd-conduct arguments, “but as a political matter and a social matter people will be looking at these things together.”

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